Year 2018 is here. Even though I am not a believer of measuring my actions per year, I still recognize the significance of the opportunity that every new year gives me to re-assess my life’s goal, count my blessings, learn from my mistakes and reinforce my decision to pursue my passion with clarity and vigor.
The past few years have had a significant impact on me as an entrepreneur, building up from 2016, when I was selected among 1000 entrepreneurs across Africa by the Tony Elumelu Foundation; which gave me a needed boost in my journey as an agribusiness entrepreneur.
Three words summarizes the entire 2017 for me; Exciting, Learning and Impactful. I had the privilege and opportunity of meeting great teachers, mentors and friends, who individually and collectively played significant roles in the achievement of my life’s long purpose as an entrepreneur, father, husband and mentor. The interactions I had with each of them, shaped my life and made me a better person and business man. As we begin this new calendar, I have decided to distill the lessons I learnt in 2017 to share with you and hope you learn a few things that would position you for success in 2018.
- Positioning is key and having a long term, multi-year vision is what helps you position efficiently. No matter how many times you write New Year resolutions or the positive affirmations you make, without a clear long term vision of what you want to achieve and the discipline to ruthlessly execute those plans, 2018 will be just like other years, with no real impact created in your life, career or business. Therefore, it is important that your long term vision determine how you position your personal brand, business or career.
- Every Effort counts: While I have always known this all my life, the relevance of this truism have repeated showed up especially in my journey as an entrepreneur. The efforts made in 2017 would not have been effective if I had not taken the initiatives I took in 2016. For instance, I wouldn’t have been here today, If I did not make the decision to start as an agro entrepreneur or applied for the Tony Elumelu foundation programme. Even as I am ready to dive deep into this New Year, my efforts would not make any real impact without those that I made in 2017. So as you begin this New Year, always remember that every single effort you make towards your goals in life count, and with this knowledge, taking action will be required of you- knowing that every effort truly counts.
- Don’t be deceived, hard work still wins: Success requires hard work, dedication and commitment. There is no shortcut, there is no easy way, there is no way you are going to have success by working part time or having everyone else do the work — no matter what, there is going to be hard work. It’s going to require dedication, it’s going to be tireless nights, it’s going to be long hours. There is no way around it. Success, real success, beyond basic needs, requires hard work, dedication and commitment.
- Always have fun. Know when to create a balance. It’s easy to get into workaholic mode as your pursue your vision. You’ve got projects to create, meetings with staff, emails to send, and a million other to-do items. I get into this space very often and don’t even realize it most times. Don’t get me wrong – As I have stated earlier, I advocate for hard work, as success is not for the lazy. But it is important for us to choose to have fun while we work.
Note that work isn’t separate from life — it’s a part of it. For some people, it’s not a fun part of life, but for others, it’s a passion. Either way, it’s a part of our lives, good or bad. The moment you realize that your work is part of your life; you have to make a conscious decision to have fun while at it.
- Collaborate, Don’t Compete: I am naturally a very competitive person and would usually put in efforts to always be at the top of my game. But 2017 taught me that collaboration beats competition, especially when it is done amongst individuals who bring mutual benefits to the collaboration. This is especially true in the Agribusiness space; as there are still a lot of opportunities in the sector that 20 years from now, we would still haven’t scratched the surface of opportunities to be explored. So for us to move faster and solve Africa’s problems (technology, food, insecurity, good governance, etc), we need to collaborate more than compete. The landscape is too big to compete. Tap other people strengths.
- Don’t re-invent the wheel: One of the mistakes most entrepreneurs do is try to reinvent the wheel, in a bid to drive towards ‘innovation’. This is because they miss out on the real essence of innovation – which is creating a solution that is relevant to the market and solves an identified need. An idea doesn’t need space rocket logic behind it for it to be innovative – as far as it solves a local problem; you are on the right path. Through the platform that the Mandela Washington Fellowship provided, I had the opportunity of learning from established farms in the United States which has helped me redesign my business model for more impact and results. This is because I decided to pick what already works and tailor it to solve the need in the Africa market.
- The value of network: People are your most priceless asset. Initiate, nurture and grow your network. Even though our minds may take us to already established entrepreneurs like; Tony Elumelu, Aliko Dangote and the likes, anytime the mention of building a network is discussed, the real network that should be nurtured are your friends, peers and colleagues. People who happen to be within your sphere of influence. For instance, one of our programmes at USAIFA – the “farmers in suit” initiative- was birthed as a result of my conversation over lunch with one of my fellow Mandela Washington recipient from Zimbabwe. This programme has become a major pivot of our youth empowerment programme. The gold you may be looking for lies in people; seek it, build it, nurture it and invest in it.
- Think Impact: Very early in my entrepreneurship journey, I focused more on results and profitability for my business, but soon I realized that I can achieve both my business and personal goals faster when I think in terms of impact. This is why we have made a decision in 2018 to redesign our business model and become a 100% zero waste sustainable farm, focus on empowering more young people through the farmer’s in suit initiative and directly improve the quality of live and increase productivity of rural farmers through our innovative product; the green seeder hand planter.
- Give back. Everything is about giving back. The essence of everything you do as a person and entrepreneur should be about giving. Being willing to support other people to grow while providing the tools, knowledge and guidance to facilitate that. I have been privilege to benefit from the generosity of so many individuals, whose life of giving back to others has brought me where I am today and continues to fuel my growth.
Firstly my wife and three children who have been a strong pillar of support on my mission. People like Tony Elumelu; for his support and mentorship through the Tony Elumelu Foundation, The Mandela Washington Fellowship; Dr. Craig Edwards, Dr. Craig Watters and Dr. Bill Raun of Oklahoma State University for their support, mentorship and of course, the Greenseeder Hand Planter, My board of Directors and Our Staff, My very supportive friends Nasiru Garba, Lawal Mohd Sani and Francis Onyilo; and the super 24 Fellows from 17 African countries at the OSU MWF Institute #GoPokes The MWF alumni Family in Nigeria and every one of you guys on this platform and beyond.
As we launch into this New Year; which for me is about consolidating my efforts of previous years, you may need to start off that business idea of yours. And if you are already building your business, then you may have to focus on cultivating your networks as well as collaborate more. Whatsoever you do, know that 2018 will be to you what you want it to be. #YouSeeWhatYouBelieve
Go have a blast.
Usman Ali Lawan